As South Africa struggles under the strain of a second wave of COVID-19, scientists’ attribute the latest surge of infection to a new variant called 501.V2.
Because it travels more easily and much faster, it may end up more deadly. This is according to a report by the Centre for Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) published last week.
“The virus is spreading (~50%) faster in 2nd wave than 1st wave in SA’s coastal provinces where the 501Y.V2 variant is known to be dominant.
About the new variant, so far.
The variant 501Y.V2 emerged between October and November 2020, before the second wave began. A genomics team led by the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal discovered it.
According to co-chair of the ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19, Professor Abdool Karim, the new variant’s structure has changed:
- Its affinity to the human cell is stronger,
- The affinity makes it easier for it to bind to human cells.
Consequently, this makes transmission easier.
He further compared the rate of infection in the first and second waves: explaining that:
- It took 107 days for the Western Cape to reach its first 100 000 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. While it only took 54 days for the province to get the same number of cases in the second wave.
- KwaZulu-Natal took 254 days to reach 100 000 cases in the first wave compared to 33 days in the second wave.
This therefore indicates that the variant is putting increased pressure on hospitals As a result “we may see in due course an increase in deaths because of a lack of beds and the pressure in the healthcare system,” Karim.
Is variant 501Y.V2 more severe?
Current data suggests that new variant is not more severe and the published convalescent serum studies suggest that natural antibodies are less effective,” read the report.
The CAPRISA report also suggested that the proportion of re-infections has remained relatively constant across both the first and second waves in South Africa. This means that the risk of re-infection is the same for the new and older variant.
However, this does not suggest that re-infection is not possible.
At least 4 000 re-infection cases recorded so far. However, it is unknown what role this new variant plays in it.
A prospective study is currently underway on the rate of SARS-CoV-2 infections and re-infections in health workers and other high-risk groups in South Africa, and a clinical study is on the books too.
Data from studies like these will help give more information about who is more likely to get re-infected and what drives re-infection.
Will the COVID-19 vaccines work against the 501Y.V2 variant? Is there new evidence?
There is no empiric evidence yet on whether the current vaccines will not work against the 501Y.V2 variant. However, studies are underway.
In the meantime, the country awaits the arrival of the first batch of the vaccines and easing up of the cases because of the vaccinations.
How many new strains of coronavirus are there?
COVID-19 has undergone both minor and major mutations since it was first discovered in early 2020. Scientists believe there could be more on the way.
Five significant mutations have emerged in South Africa, the UK, Denmark, China and Brazil.
Variant is called “501Y.V2” & not “South African” variant just like “SARS-CoV-2” is not called “China virus”.
There has been no detected increase in the severity of the symptoms and effects of the new virus variant. This does not mean that it should be taken any less lightly than SARS-CoV-2.
The best measures are still the preventative, to practice social distance, wear a mask, sanitize hands with a minimum 60% alcohol handsanitiser and wash hands for thirty seconds with clean water and soap.